An ice ball is a large, round piece of ice that melts more slowly than ice cubes. Averaging two inches in diameters, the spherical ice prevents watered-down drinks, so there's no need to worry about your scotch on the rocks, whiskey and cola, or any other cocktail getting too watery before you're done with it.
Ice balls work best for certain types of drinks and there are a few easy ways that you can make ice balls at home. For the average person, an ice ball mold is the most practical and popular option. Easy to find (especially online), you can choose between an aluminum press and a two-piece plastic mold.
Slow Down the Melt
Ice melt is one reason why your homemade drinks may not taste as fresh as bar drinks. The ice served in bars is designed to fill the glass and maximize its capacity. Packing the glass keeps everything cooler longer and slows down melting.
The classic cube design common in home freezers does not efficiently fill a round glass, so the ice melts faster. An ice ball's spherical shape prevents this issue by giving you one large clump with more surface area. It naturally cools itself and melts more slowly.
When to Use Ice Balls
Ice balls are perfect when you're drinking straight liquor on the rocks and lowball mixed drinks like the black Russian and old-fashioned. It's also nice to use ice balls in iced coffee drinks and milk or cream cocktails that you want to keep cold and free of excess water.
An average ice ball diameter is around two inches (similar to a handball or racquetball). They fit into most lowball glasses and some wider-rimmed tall glasses. Those that taper inward at the rim will not work, and your ball may sit on top.
Additionally, add a few ice balls to a party punch or pitcher drink to keep it ice-cold for a few hours.
How Long Do Ice Balls Last?
An ice ball's longevity depends on the temperature of the room, glass, and liquids poured over the ice. Using a chilled glass and cold ingredients increases the ice ball's effectiveness.
In general, you'll get about two hours from a single large ball and be able to use it for two or three drinks. Outside on a warm summer day, that can be reduced to an hour. Yet, that's significantly better than the 15 minutes you may get out of standard kitchen ice cubes.
Carved Ice Balls
Carving ice balls from a solid brick of ice is a common practice in Japan. It is viewed as a craft, and an expert carver can produce one eye-catching ice ball in about eight minutes. Mastering this skill takes the right ice carving tools and a lot of patience and ice. It's not ideal or practical for most home bartenders.
Ice Ball Press
An ice ball press is an aluminum or metal mold that breaks down a large chunk of ice to form a ball. The force of the mold presses the ice block into the ball-shaped mold and creates a perfectly rounded piece of ice in minutes with little to no effort. While you need a good stock of ice blocks at the ready, you can make 30 or more ice balls in an hour once you get rolling.
These presses are widely available and come in different shapes as well. The drawback is that they are expensive, and the ice balls may not be a full two inches round.
Plastic Ice Ball Molds
Plastic molds are far more economical and similar in price to a quality ice cube tray. The basic design is the same: a two-part mold that you fill with water. Single ice ball molds are available, though you'll often find trays that make two to six balls at a time. Some molds let you remove individual ice balls as they freeze; with others, you'll need to empty the entire tray.
A higher volume of water requires more time to freeze, and that is the main disadvantage to these molds. Plan on twice the time needed for a regular ice cube tray in your freezer. In really cold freezers, this may take just five hours, though overnight is generally best. Place the mold in the coldest part of the freezer or a chest freezer to speed it up.
Pay close attention to the mold's size when shopping online. There are numerous ice trays, molds, and presses that are merely a redesign of the standard cube tray. While mini ice balls are fun, two-inch balls are more effective for slow dilution.
How to Fill an Ice Ball Mold
Filling an ice ball mold can take some getting used to and the most effective method depends on the type of mold:
- For a globe-shaped mold, fill the bottom half of the sphere with water, secure the top part, then finish filling it through the hole on top. With a very small funnel and a thin, steady stream of water, it is possible to fill an assembled mold.
- To fill a tray-style ice mold, separate the two pieces and fill the bottom mold to the top of the rim (not just the sphere shape). Place the top piece over the bottom and push it down. The water displaced from the bottom tray will fill the top part of the sphere. Any excess water will come out of the air holes on the top of each mold.
No matter which mold you use, a few extra tips will help create great ice balls:
- Use distilled water for the clearest, cleanest ice.
- Set the mold on a level surface in the freezer. Tilted molds will leak and you will not have a full ball once it is frozen.
- Allow the mold to sit undisturbed until completely frozen.
- Once frozen, separate the two parts of the mold. If any of the ice balls stick, run cold water over the bottom of the mold to release the ice.
- If you use them regularly, keep a good stock of ice balls at the ready to ensure you don't run out. Store frozen ice balls in a freezer bag or a sealed container until needed. If you keep up on the freezing cycle, you can easily have a dozen or more ice balls available at any time.
- When hosting a party, start days in advance in order to have enough ice balls ready.
Ice Ball Balloons
To try out the effects of an ice ball without buying a mold or press, grab a bag of balloons. The shape is actually more of a teardrop and you can make them any size you like (as long as the ice fits in a glass). For this easy trick, you will need a place in the freezer to hang the balloons once filled with water. Let them freeze overnight and try it in a drink.